Under University President Thomas LeBlanc, GW has suffered from a lack of administrative leadership. LeBlanc’s numerous scandals and general callousness have prompted calls for his resignation from many corners of the campus community, including faculty, staff and students.
Now, another campus leader has abdicated his position as a moral leader. After over a week and amid the possibility of impeachment, Student Association President Howard Brookins finally acceded to calls to resign over accusations of sexual misconduct and SA bylaw and constitution violations. Brookins should have accepted responsibility for his actions the moment accusations were leveled, but instead, he waited days and refused to fully accept accountability. Let’s face it: Some of GW’s student leaders struggle with morality.
Brookins, who was elected with a razor-thin majority of first-place votes, began seeing backlash from members of his cabinet who have resigned over the past few weeks, some claiming a “negligent and careless work environment” and “inappropriate actions.” It is unclear if the latter claims are related to sexual misconduct allegations against Brookins made by a student on Twitter. The SA Senate begun impeachment proceedings against Brookins, pointing to potential SA bylaw and constitution breaches. All the while, the GW community heard nothing from Brookins until Sunday, when he announced his resignation.
GW needs leaders that hold themselves to account. The get-to-the-top culture of our University foments blatant disregard for actions and consequences, and GW’s leadership is miserably failing our community right now. It takes a certain type of person to want to be SA president, and those who find themselves emboldened rather than humbled by their position of power are a danger to students. LeBlanc and Brookins are two such examples, but their misdeeds are the tip of the iceberg. While GW is not as known for competitiveness between students as much as, say, Harvard University, there remains a portion of the student body that would step on their peers to gain an advantage. Brookins is evidence of this.
Not all student leaders are obsessed with power. George Glass, the SA’s vice president for financial affairs, was the runner-up to Brookins in the presidential election. Glass has a happy-go-lucky persona, one who charms and disarms his peers, myself included. He is known for wearing costumes around campus, avidly supporting GW’s sports teams and raising more than $1,200 for GW Mutual Aid by cooking and eating a sock. Notably, no one has come forward to accuse Glass of misconduct. All of this is to say that GW already has the students to take up the mantle of morality Brookins has dropped – we, as students, must now sniff them out and do our utmost to discern the responsible from the dangerous.
All the aforementioned students and I are in the same academic year. I am, or have been, friendly with all of them. I served as vice president of Thurston Hall alongside Glass, who was president of the residence hall. Brookins and I have mutual friends and have attended the same friends’ birthday parties. I knew of Brookins’ alleged sexual mistreatment before she went public, and I fear there are other women he has mistreated in the same way. Brookins should have resigned long before Sunday. His departure is the only way he now has to demonstrate a shred of integrity and accountability. His alleged failings of governance and sexual misconduct represent the worst of GW, and his silence on both matters up until Sunday speaks volumes.
I take no pleasure from writing this piece. I am disillusioned, thanks to GW, by the repeated moral failings of our leaders. Now in my last semester, I realize one of the few constants of my tenure here is the shortcomings of the SA. This most recent occurrence is more insidious – and more personal – than the others, and I am tired of watching an organization meant to advocate for students fail them time and again. It is time for the humble and kind to take control away from the power hungry and irresponsible. Brookins’ resignation means the healing process can begin, but it will take effort on everyone’s part to change this toxic element of GW’s culture.
Matthew Zachary, a senior majoring in Latin American studies, is a columnist.